Patriot Churches

This extended NPR piece does a nice job of covering the divisions in the evangelical community right now. The GOP is not the only group that is divided in the wake of the Trump era.

Listen:

You can listen to the Knoxville “Patriot Church” service (January 10, 2021) referenced in this NPR piece (“Onward Christian Soldiers”) here.

The pastor of the Knoxville Patriot Church, Ken Peters, introduces the service wearing a “Rigged 2020” T-Shirt. He tells his congregation that Antifa stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2020 and describes Mike Pence as “evil.”

The main speaker, Sharam Hadian, a former Muslim and pro-Trumper, tells the audience that “this is the time to run toward the battle.” He says anyone who walked away from the U.S Capitol during the insurrection is not a “good Christian soldier.” He adds, “there comes a time to overturn the tables of the temple” and “put the fear of God” in those trying to stage a coup on the government of the United States. The senators in the Capitol on January 6, Hadian preaches, have betrayed America. He refers to Mike Pence as “Pontius Pence” and claims that the former vice-president has “betrayed his anointing.”

Hadian tries to separate the true Trump followers in Washington D.C. from the insurrectionists, but I am not sure that many of the Christian nationalists who stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2021 really understand this difference, especially when they are constantly fed this militant language.

This entire service is a conspiracy theory baptized with Christian praise music, Bible quotations, and prayer.

On January 13, 2021, Peters holds a “men’s discipleship” meeting at the Patriot Church. They are discussing David Gibbs‘s, One Nation Under God: Ten Things Every Christian Should Know About the Founding of America. Gibbs They are also reading David Barton’s (Wallbuilders) Christian nationalist book The American Story.

Peters starts with a lesson on the Pilgrims and the Mayflower Compact. He has a “Rigged 2020” baseball cap on as he teaches. He talks about how “God cleared out the Indians with plagues” in order to allow the Pilgrims to claim the land and build America. Notice how this Christian revisionism is shaping the day-to-day life of evangelical churches. “When you discover that America was founded on Christian principles, by Christian men…it makes you want to fight for it, Peters says. He adds: “if America was a totally pagan country I wouldn’t have the love for it that I do.”

This is classic Christian nationalism. But what if this history is wrong, or at the very least more complex? The entire Christian nationalist movement is built on a distorted view of American history. It rests on the work of pseudo-historian David Barton and this Wallbuilders organization.

Peters then moves into providential history and Christian Zionism. “I believe that America was a move of God for the sake of Israel, protecting Israel, helping Israel get established.” At this point, Peters references an interview he did with CBS News. I am familiar with this interview because CBS also interviewed me for this story–a forthcoming video piece on Christian nationalism. I am told it will be out soon.

Peters’s “men’s discipleship class” then moves into a discussion of Trump’s second impeachment: “It reminds me of what the world did to Jesus.” There is definitely “discipleship” going on here, but I am not sure if it is Christian discipleship.

On January 14, 2021 Peters wrote on the Patriot Church-Knoxville Facebook page: “The left is going to use the Capitol incident to try and destroy me and others who have taken a stand. They will spin and deceive. They are absolutely evil and bent on our demise. Don’t fall for. It. Satan is a liar.”

On Sunday morning, January 17, 2021, Shahram Hadian was back to finish his sermon from the week before. He warns the congregation not to believe the “lie” that the Left wants “unity” or “peace” when they really “want to destroy us.” The Church, he adds, cannot “sit at the table with demons.”

In this speech, preached on the evening of January 17, 2021, Hadian tells the congregation that the 2020 presidential election was a “deep state coup” orchestrated by Satan. Now that Trump is out of office, Hadian says, we can expect “the rise of Islam, globalism and ecumenicalism converging to a one world government, one world religion and the coming of Anti-Christ system!” The coming of this new world order is directly connected to digital chips in the COVID-19 vaccine and “digital passports.” In other words, the pandemic is “paving the way for the mark of the beast.” And that is just the beginning.

I’ll keep my eye on this Patriot Church movement.

More thoughts on the Springsteen/Jeep Super Bowl commercial

I think most Americans liked it:

But there have been critics and some of them have found their way to my social media feeds. 🙂

Some do not like the ad’s Christian nationalism. (The chapel has a flag and a cross). This is a fair critique and anyone who reads this blog knows I take this criticism seriously. Last week I wondered about the differences and similarities between Barack Obama’s Christian nationalism and Mike Pence’s Christian nationalism. As I wrote in 2011 about Martin Luther King Jr., and developed more fully in Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?, there is a kind of Christian nationalism that has informed many of our nation’s great reform movements. So yes, liberals also engage in Christian nationalism. A lot of Springsteen’s songs reflect this theme.

Most critics, however, are upset about Springsteen’s use of the term “the middle.” Conservatives remember Springsteen’s criticism of the Bush administration and his political support of John Kerry, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Joe Biden. Those on the Left are skeptical about calls for unity in the wake of a presidential administration that incited an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Both sides believe that the word “middle” suggests some kind of moral equivalency.

I am not thrilled about the use of the world “middle” in the ad. But Donald Trump also changed the political landscape. I wonder if today Springsteen would welcome George W. Bush, John McCain, Mitt Romney, or even Ronald Reagan into a wide and expansive American “middle” that includes those on the Left and the Right? Those who occupy such a middle would be willing to engage in rational, evidence-based discourse. Such a middle would require people concerned about the future of the United States to make public arguments based on well-grounded interpretations of our founding ideals. I think many of us are exhausted by the latest round of culture wars. We are mindful of worrying illiberal trends on the Left and the Right, and deeply concerned about the state of our fractured democratic institutions. We can debate what is worse: Trumpism or the kinds of identity politics policing that occurs on the academic Left. And we must condemn moral equivalency when it needs condemning. But there are times when neither side operates on a political and cultural playing field that respects open and democratic discourse.

As some of you know, I find a nice expression of this democratic playing field in the recent Harper’s Letter on Justice and Open Debate“:

Our cultural institutions are facing a moment of trial. Powerful protests for racial and social justice are leading to overdue demands for police reform, along with wider calls for greater equality and inclusion across our society, not least in higher education, journalism, philanthropy, and the arts. But this needed reckoning has also intensified a new set of moral attitudes and political commitments that tend to weaken our norms of open debate and toleration of differences in favor of ideological conformity. As we applaud the first development, we also raise our voices against the second. The forces of illiberalism are gaining strength throughout the world and have a powerful ally in Donald Trump, who represents a real threat to democracy. But resistance must not be allowed to harden into its own brand of dogma or coercion—which right-wing demagogues are already exploiting. The democratic inclusion we want can be achieved only if we speak out against the intolerant climate that has set in on all sides.

The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted. While we have come to expect this on the radical right, censoriousness is also spreading more widely in our culture: an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty. We uphold the value of robust and even caustic counter-speech from all quarters. But it is now all too common to hear calls for swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought. More troubling still, institutional leaders, in a spirit of panicked damage control, are delivering hasty and disproportionate punishments instead of considered reforms. Editors are fired for running controversial pieces; books are withdrawn for alleged inauthenticity; journalists are barred from writing on certain topics; professors are investigated for quoting works of literature in class; a researcher is fired for circulating a peer-reviewed academic study; and the heads of organizations are ousted for what are sometimes just clumsy mistakes. Whatever the arguments around each particular incident, the result has been to steadily narrow the boundaries of what can be said without the threat of reprisal. We are already paying the price in greater risk aversion among writers, artists, and journalists who fear for their livelihoods if they depart from the consensus, or even lack sufficient zeal in agreement.

This stifling atmosphere will ultimately harm the most vital causes of our time. The restriction of debate, whether by a repressive government or an intolerant society, invariably hurts those who lack power and makes everyone less capable of democratic participation. The way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away. We refuse any false choice between justice and freedom, which cannot exist without each other. As writers we need a culture that leaves us room for experimentation, risk taking, and even mistakes. We need to preserve the possibility of good-faith disagreement without dire professional consequences. If we won’t defend the very thing on which our work depends, we shouldn’t expect the public or the state to defend it for us.

Several important writers and thinkers have signed this letter, including Anna Appelbaum, Mia Bay, David Blight, David Brooks, Noam Chomsky, Roger Cohen, Gerald Early, David Frum, Francis Fukuyama, Todd Gitlin, Malcolm Gladwell, Jonathan Haidt, Adam Hochschild, Jeet Heer, David Greenberg, Michelle Goldberg, Anthony Grafton, Michael Ignatieff, Matthew Karp, Mark Lilla, Damon Linker, Dahlia Lithwick, Greil Marcus, Wynton Marsalis, Deirdre McCloskey, John McWhorter, Samuel Moyn, Olivia Nuzzi, Mark Oppenheimer, George Packer, Nell Irving Painter, Orlando Patterson, Katha Pollit, Claire Potter, Steven Pinker, Jennfer Ratner-Rosenhagen, Salman Rushdie, Anne-Marie Slaughter, PaulL Starr, Gloria Steinem, Erik Washington, Garry Wills, Cornel West, Caroline Weber, Molly Worthen, Matthew Yglesias, and Fareed Zakaria.

I don’t think many of these writers would be comfortable saying they are in the “middle,” but they all have the sensibility we need. They are committed to rational and well-argued discourse, the kind of discourse that is our best hope for moving forward.

In the end, my most significant critique of the Springsteen ad is the timing. I don’t think we are ready yet for grandiose, feel-good calls for unity. The Trump administration did some serious damage to our democracy and a lot of Americans don’t want to talk about healing right now–not as long as people are still defending the insurrection on the capitol, claiming the 2020 presidential election was stolen, electing conspiracy theorists to Congress, and engaging in a kind of lost cause rhetoric about the previous administration.

So I stand by my original comment–the one I posted on the Springsteen/Jeep ad on Sunday afternoon before it was aired during the big game: “A little too optimistic and sentimental? Perhaps. But that’s what Bruce does.”

And now I will take a short break and play “Jungleland” on my record player.

It appears we have a direct connection between Seven Mountain Dominionism and the insurrection on the U.S. Capitol.

“I’m probably going to lose my job as a pastor after this.”

Here is a guy named Tyler Ethridge at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.

For those who cannot access the video, here is the transcript:

I don’t want to say that what we’re doing is right, but if the election is being stolen what is it going to take? Really. It it going to take people just talking about it? I’m probably going to lost my job as a pastor after this but what is it going to take? I don’t see anyone out here that are just teachers. Talk is cheap, and I think we’re to the point where talk is cheap. And if this makes me lose my reputation, I don’t care. I don’t care about my reputation, I care about my nation. I care about it for my daughter and my child. That’s what I care about. It’s more than just talking, it’s doing. There comes a point where you have to “do.”

Ethridge is a high school football star with a troubled past who attended Charis Bible College in Colorado. This school is associated with evangelical Trump supporter and charismatic preacher Andrew Wommack. It is a Christian nationalist Bible college that once housed the David Barton School of Government and continues to run a program in “practical government.” The school is on Barton’s “list of safe colleges and universities.”

I once wrote an open letter to the student body of Charis Bible College after a Barton appearance. Read it here.

Ethridge is a proud graduate of Charis’s practical government program. All of the names listed in the following tweet are Christian nationalists and Trump supporters. Ethridge “studied under” them.

Watch Barton and Wommack discussing their plans for the new Barton School of Government:

It appears that Barton’s name is no longer attached to the school, but he continues to teach in the program and his ideas still shape the curriculum.

Here is a promotional video that is currently on the Charis Bible College website (it includes David and Tim Barton):

Students enrolled in the program choose from a list of courses that include:

“Seven Mountains of Influence”:

Human society is affected by seven primary arenas of influence, one of which is government. Other arenas of influence include the family, education, and the media. In this course, students will learn to identify the various arenas of society, and how they interact and overlap. Particular focus will be given to the importance and influence of Government. The concept developed by this course is a powerful key to unlocking the potential of the Church to fulfill the Great Commission.

(Learn more about Seven Mountains Dominionism here).

“The Miracle of America“:

The founding of the United States of America changed the course and history of the World. In this class, students will learn the historical proof that America was birthed by the miraculous hand of God. We will study, among other things, God’s intervention in events at pivotal moments, the inspiration our founders drew from God’s word and their own relationship with Him, and the analogies between the founding of America for God’s purpose and the deliverance of Israel from bondage in Egypt.

“The Christian Heritage of American Government”:

In this series of courses, students will study the history of American government. In Part 1, we will uncover the amazing truth about the events, ideas and people involved in the formation of the greatest nation in the history of the world. This first installment will cover British roots through the American Revolution, including political philosophy, religious persecution and migration, the revival known as the Great Awakening, the tyranny of King George III, slavery in the colonies, the Black Robe regiment, the Mayflower Compact, an analysis of the Declaration of Independence and many other topics.

“Faith of the Founders”:

In this course, Students will learn how the vast majority of our Founding Fathers were in fact, devoted Christians. We will study their personal and public writings and see how the policies and laws they adopted were inspired by their faith in the God of the Bible.

“The Role of Pastors in Government”:

This very important course will inform students regarding the scriptural mandate and historical role that the Church and Pastors should play in the arena of government. We will address concerns that many may have which are rooted in misconceptions of “separation of church and state” and an overly narrow concept of modern “evangelism.” Students will be challenged and emboldened as they explore the truth about the views of our Founders, the history of the “Black Robe Regiment,” actual Supreme Court case law, concepts and examples from Scripture, U.S. Tax law and other sources.

“How to Run for Office” (Taught by former New Mexico congressman Bill Redmond):

In “How to Run for Office,” we will cover how to plan and execute a basic campaign for an elected public office. Subjects will include how to assemble a team, developing your message, preparing effective printed materials, using direct mail, the internet and print media, voter targeting, fundraising and more.

“United States Constitution” (Taught by David Barton):

Practical Government Students will receive thorough instruction regarding the United States Constitution, the longest serving Constitution of any nation in the world. This first in a series of courses will teach the history of the Constitution, the Christian character of the document, an overview of its framework and provisions, as well as a review of the Amendments other than the Bill of Rights, which is covered in depth in a subsequent class.

See the entire list of courses here. Others include:

Creationism and the Flood:

The principle that mankind was created by God is expressed in America’s founding charter, and is fundamental to a proper understanding of civil rights, the limited role of government and the worth of the individual. In this course, our students will be instructed in scientific and physical evidence supporting the Biblical accounts of creation and the Flood of Noah, and be equipped by this course to defend in the public sector these foundational events as historical facts.

Biblical Free Enterprise:

In Biblical Free Enterprise, students will learn the biblical principles of economics that should be followed by all governments and which have led to the United States becoming the most productive and prosperous nation in the history of the world.

Christian Heritage of American Government II:

In this enlightening course, students will continue to explore the Christian heritage of American government, reviewing materials by David Barton and others, with a particular focus on the period from the American Revolution to the Civil War.

Principles of War

Here, students will learn principles and strategies for success in the “culture war.” They will study lessons learned on the field of actual battle, including the importance of being on “offense”, an accurate understanding of “defense” and many others.

I don’t know how many of these courses Tyler Ethridge took, but it doesn’t surprise me that someone enrolled in this program might be inspired to storm the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. The course on “Principles of War,” for example, teaches students “the importance of being on ‘offense.'”

Blogger David Bonner has been following Ethridge for a while at his Wondering Eagle blog. He and other sources note that Ethridge was a youth pastor at Christ Centered Church in Tampa, Florida. But it looks like the church fired him before he even started work:

Here Ethridge retweets Independent Network Charismatic prophet Dutch Sheets (one of Eric Metaxas’s favorite prophets). The reference to Cape Henry, Virginia is standard fare for those who argue that the United States was founded as a Christian nation:

Here is Ethridge on July 18, 2020. He seems ready for a fight:

Ethridge is no coward:

Here Ethridge makes reference to what he learned about the “Black Robe Regiment.” The reference to Peter Muhlenberg is a dead give-away. I image he learned about Muhlenberg in his course on “The Role of Pastors in Government”:

John Guandalo teaches a courses at Charis Bible College titled “Understanding the Threat”:

Ethridge is not happy with Ted Cruz in the following tweet, but it says a lot about Cruz’s connections to Christian dominionism. Some of you recall I was making this argument about Cruz back in 2016. Cruz hangs out with these folks and has apparently visited Charis Bible College.

Ethridge embodies the links between Christian nationalist politics and the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. I am sure that David Barton, Andrew Wommack, and the folks at Charis Bible College will call him an outlier. But as I see it, Ethridge was just taking his training to its logical conclusion.

Martin Luther King Jr’s Christian nationalism

This is a piece I wrote in 2011 when I was doing a column at Patheos:

When we think of the defenders of a Christian America today, the Christian Right immediately comes to mind. We think of people like Glenn Beck (who despite his Mormonism has joined forces with many Christian nationalists), David Barton, Peter Marshall and David Manuel, or Newt Gingrich. All of these public figures have championed the idea that the United States was founded as a Christian nation. Their careers have been defined by the belief that this country needs to return to its Christian roots in order to receive the blessings of God.

Rarely, if ever, do we hear the name Martin Luther King, Jr., included in this list of apologists for Christian America. Yet he was just as much of an advocate for a “Christian America” as any who affiliate with the Christian Right today. Let me explain.

King’s fight for a Christian America was not over amending the Constitution to make it more Christian or promoting crusades to insert “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance (June 14, 1954). It was instead a battle against injustice and an attempt to forge a national community defined by Christian ideals of equality and respect for human dignity.

Most historians now agree that the Civil Rights movement was driven by the Christian faith of its proponents. As David Chappell argued in his landmark book, Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow, the story of the Civil Rights movement is less about the triumph of progressive and liberal ideals and more about the revival of an Old Testament prophetic tradition that led African-Americans to hold their nation accountable for the decidedly unchristian behavior it showed many of its citizens.

There was no more powerful leader for this kind of Christian America than King, and no greater statement of his vision for America than his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

King arrived in Birmingham in April 1963 and led demonstrations calling for an end to racist hiring practices and segregated public facilities. When King refused to end his protests, he was arrested by Eugene “Bull” Connor, the city’s Public Safety Commissioner. In solitary confinement, King wrote to the Birmingham clergy who were opposed to the civil rights protests in the city. The “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” published in pamphlet form and circulated widely, offered a vision of Christian nationalism that challenged the localism and parochialism of the Birmingham clergy and called into question their version of Christian America.

A fierce localism pervaded much of the South in the mid-20th century. For Southerners, nationalism conjured up memories of the Civil War and Reconstruction, a period when Northern nationalists—Abraham Lincoln, the “Radical Republican” Congress, and the so-called “carpetbaggers—invaded the South in an attempt to force the region to bring its localism in line with a national vision informed by racial equality.

When he arrived in Birmingham, King was perceived as an outside agitator intent on disrupting the order of everyday life in the city. Many Birmingham clergy believed that segregation was a local issue and should thus be addressed at the local level.

King rejected this kind of parochialism. He fought for moral and religious ideas such as liberty and freedom that were universal in nature. Such universal truths, King believed, should always trump local beliefs, traditions, and customs. As he put it, “I am in Birmingham because injustice is here.” Justice was a universal concept that defined America. King reminded the Birmingham clergy that Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln had defended equality as a national creed, a creed to which he believed the local traditions of the Jim Crow South must conform. In his mind, all “communities and states” were interrelated. “Injustice anywhere,” he famously wrote, “is a threat to justice everywhere.” He added: “Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.” This was King the nationalist at his rhetorical best.

King understood justice in Christian terms. The rights granted to all citizens of the United States were “God given.” Segregation laws, King believed, were unjust not only because they violated the principles of the Declaration of Independence (“all men are created equal”) but because they did not conform to the laws of God.

King argued, using Augustine and Aquinas, that segregation was “morally wrong and sinful” because it “degraded “human personality.” Such a statement was grounded in the biblical idea that all human beings were created in the image of God and as a result possess inherent dignity and worth.

He also used biblical examples of civil disobedience to make his point. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego took a stand for God’s law over the law of King Nebuchadnezzar. Paul was willing to “bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” And, of course, Jesus Christ was an “extremist for love, truth, and goodness” who “rose above his environment.”

In the end, Birmingham’s destiny was connected to the destiny of the entire nation—a nation that possessed what King called a “sacred heritage,” influenced by the “eternal will of God.” By fighting against segregation, King reminded the Birmingham clergy that he was standing up for “what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judeo-Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.” (italics mine)

It sounds to me that King wanted America to be a Christian nation. The Civil Rights movement, as he understood it, was in essence an attempt to construct a new kind of Christian nation—a beloved community of love, harmony, and equality.

For most of U.S. history, Americans were Christian nationalists. Or were they?

I hear a lot of people talking about “Christian nationalism” these days, but I don’t hear a lot of deep historical thinking on the subject. In the first four chapters of my book Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?, I suggested that nearly everyone believed that the United States was a Christian nation. I am not sure this makes them “Christian nationalists” as some define it today, but everyone from abolitionists to liberal Protestants and social gospelers to civil rights activists believed America was a Christian nation.

The following people believed that the United States was a Christian nation: Philip Schaff, John Adams, most Federalists, Lyman Beecher, most of the early historians of the American Revolution (David Ramsey, Mercy Otis Warren, George Bancroft), most early textbook authors (Charles Goodrich, Emma Willard, Noah Webster, Mason Locke Weems, William McGuffey), Horace Bushnell, Frederick Douglass, Albert Barnes, William Lloyd Garrison, Robert Dabney, James Henry Thornwell, the National Reform Association, A.A. Hodge, Charles Blanchard, Billy Sunday, William Jennings Bryan, Henry Ward Beecher, Washington Gladden, Walter Rauschenbush, the Federal Council of Churches, Woodrow Wilson, Rudyard Kipling, the National Association of Evangelicals, Billy Graham, Carl F.H. Henry, Charles Clayton Morrison (editor of the Christian Century), Pope Leo XIII, Martin Luther King Jr., Francis Schaeffer, Phyllis Schafly, David Barton, D. James Kennedy, and Peter Marshall and David Manuel.

Are those who today use the phrase “Christian nationalism” describing something that has been present since the birth of the republic? Or are they describing something that was born in the context of the 1970s?

The evangelical lost cause is alive and well in Chino Hills, California

Evangelical pro-Trumpers were roundly defeated in November. They hitched their hope–both politically and ethically–to one of the most corrupt and immoral presidents in American history. Most of Trump’s diehard evangelical supporters believe that evil forces stole the election. preventing four more years of a God-appointed president who was born to restore America to Christian greatness. Trump lost the election, but his cause was just. Over the next months and years, such a belief will be disseminated through what I have called a lost cause evangelical infrastructure.

As it is now shaping up, Eric Metaxas and Charlie Kirk will use their platforms as the most prominent evangelical defenders of the lost cause. Former Minnesota congresswoman and GOP presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann will educate young men and women in the evangelical lost cause from her new position as dean of the Robertson School of Government at Regent University. The Falkirk Center at Liberty University will be an institutional home for this movement as it continues to provide a platform for pro-Trump evangelicals Metaxas, Kirk, Jenna Ellis, Sebastian Gorka, and others. On the Independent Network Charismatic front, “prophets” such as Lance Wallnau will continue to use their large social media presence to rally the faithful in a Trump-inspired Christian populism.

And dozens and dozens of evangelical churches will continue to host lost cause events like the one we saw earlier this week at Calvary Chapel-Chino Hills with Jack Hibbs and Kirk. Watch:

Let’s remember that this event took place in an evangelical megachurch. Listen to the cheering evangelicals in the audience as Kirk spins the election results and thanks the congregation for “doing the right thing” at the ballot box. If you want to get a picture of what Trump’s presidency has unveiled, it is all on display here. Hibbs has an open Bible on his lap as he and Kirk talk about Christians winning back the culture for Christ. Trump is gone, but the conversation is still all about the pursuit of political power.

Both Kirk and Hibbs continue to suggest, through Kirk’s “funny” joke about hand-gestures, that Democrats stole the election from Trump. Like other lost cause movements, these evangelicals believe that Trump’s agenda for America was righteous and just.

Kirk claims that every one of “the left’s” policies “run contrary to God’s laws and God’s nature.” Hibbs agrees. The crowd cheers. Those in attendance are obviously happy that their pastor has allowed a political rally to break-out in the Calvary Chapel sanctuary. Both Kirk and Hibbs sit back and grin with satisfaction.

Hibbs, trying and failing to show he is some kind of historian or political philosopher, claims that “the Bible is the birthplace of the Constitution, one feeds the other and one defends the other.” I wrote about these kinds of Christian nationalist claims extensively in chapters 9 and 10 of Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction.

At around the 18:00 mark, Hibbs implies that those churches that have not stayed open during COVID-19 or failed to “stand” with Trump during the election will “not get a chance to stand again” in 2021. Notice how Hibbs connects the ability of the church to “stand” with those in political power. He then moves into evangelical fearmongering mode by suggesting that the “powers-that-be” want to shut down churches and are “sharpening their swords as we speak. He adds:

If you [are a church] that didn’t make the cross over into the new year standing, I don’t know if you are going to get a chance to stand again…I want to put a cry out to churches: you really need to open-up now because there is a high probability that you may never be granted the freedom to do that from the government again, and if you are waiting for permission from the government to open-up again I don’t think it is going to come from this administration.

Kirk then attacks my new friend, Christian rapper Lecrae. He says that Lecrae “should never be allowed to perform at another church after he supported Rafael Warnock” in the January 5, 2021 Georgia Senate runoff. He adds: “Lecrae wanted to be loved and accepted by the Democrat power establishment instead of standing-up for truth.” Again, Hibbs’s white middle class audience cheers.

Kirk then calls for a “battleship Christianity” that will fight to save American culture. A twenty-something loudmouth with no pastoral experience or formal education has the audacity to lecture pastors about how to run their churches, read their Bibles, and engage in public life. Kirk says that if a church does not preach politics, its congregants cannot trust it’s pastor’s teachings on other matters. This reminds me of the early 1740s when Presbyterian evangelical Gilbert Tennent barnstormed around the colonies preaching a sermon titled “The Danger of an Unconverted Ministry.” Tennent told Christians to leave their churches if their pastors had not experienced the new birth. A few years later, he wrote a series of pamphlets apologizing for his role in dividing the Christian churches in the colonies. One of them was titled The Danger of Spiritual Pride Represented.

At this point, the event is the equivalent of a full-blown Trump rally as Kirk makes a direct connection between Hibbs’s willingness to preach pro-Trump politics and the numerical growth of Calvary Chapel-Chino Hill. For the record, I have no doubt that Calvary Chapel-Chino Hill is growing because Hibbs uses his platform to preach politics. I also can’t think of a better window into the current state of American evangelicalism.

And it was only a matter of time before Godwin’s Law kicked-in. Like the New England Federalists of the early 19th-century who believed Thomas Jefferson was coming to close their churches and confiscate their Bibles, Kirk says that Biden’s government will soon be coming to do the same thing. Hibbs responds to Kirk’s claim: “He’s just speaking history. It’s exactly what Hitler…did.” The level of fear-mongering and conspiratorial rhetoric reaches its height as Hibbs starts comparing the Biden administration to the Nazis and Soviets.

At the end of the talk, Hibbs says that he expects the Holy Spirit to bring a revival to America like it has never seen before. After listening to his conversation with Kirk, it is unclear whether this will be a revival that will transform people spiritually or a “revival” that will drive the Democratic Party from power and restore America to its supposed Christian roots. As I asked this summer, “if a spiritual revival leads to more Christian Trumpism, it is really a spiritual revival? Or is it something else?”

Finally, Kirk announces a new program he is starting at Turning Point USA to help rally churches to become more like Jack Hibbs and Calvary Chapel-Chino.

Hibbs ends the night in prayer, sending a message to his congregation that God was pleased with everything that was said at this event.

New video: January 6 insurrectionists pray in the Senate chamber

The New Yorker just released new footage taken January 6, 2020 from inside the U.S. Capitol. Watch the entire video here.

A group of rioters, led by Jake Angeli, the so-called “QAnon Shaman,” said a public prayer from the desk at the front of the Senate. I clipped The New Yorker video to highlight the prayer:

Watch:

Thoughts:

  • Angeli prays like an evangelical. He begins by saying “thank you heavenly father for gracing us with this opportunity….” The phraseology is clearly evangelical.
  • If you still don’t know what Christian nationalism sounds like, just listen to the way this blasphemous prayer blends American nationalism with Christian faith.
  • Angeli seems to have an elementary, albeit flawed, understanding of Christian theology. At one point he refers to a “divine, omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent creator God.” The fact that this language just rolls off of Angeli’s lips suggests he has been around the evangelical block a few times.
  • He thanks God for “allowing the United States of America to be reborn.” This comes straight out of the QAnon playbook. Followers of Q, many of whom are evangelical Christians, believe that America will experience a “Great Awakening” after the evil “Deep State” is defeated. This idea of a “Great Awakening” has meshed very well with evangelical calls for a spiritual revival and evangelical claims that the First Great Awakening of the 18th century precipitated the American Revolution.

Does anyone see any similarities between Angeli’s prayer and the stuff going on here:

Franklin Graham “shames” the ten Republicans who voted to impeach Trump

Evangelicalism is an activist faith. Historically, evangelicals have preached a life-changing gospel. They have done amazing acts of service and justice in the world. We can’t ignore these things. Evangelicals have been a source of good.

At the same time, as Mark Noll reminded us in his 1994 book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, evangelicals are a largely anti-intellectual bunch. This anti-intellectualism results in, among other things, a shallow Christian politics that leads them into the hands of populist leaders like Donald Trump.

If you want an illustration of all this, just look at Franklin Graham’s twitter feed today:

So far so good. A lot of good ministry and service here. This is what evangelicals do best.

And then, about thirty minutes ago, Graham drops this beauty:

It is worth noting that Graham is shaming at least three fellow evangelicals.

Meanwhile, Jenna Ellis of Liberty University’s Falkirk Center is asking Wheaton College writer Ed Stetzer a question:

I would offer some answers to Ellis here.

Notice how Ellis defines evangelical Christianity. How could Stetzer possibly think evangelicals sold out to Trump, Ellis believes, when Trump is pro-life, loves America, and believes in limited government? Again, Ellis’s tweet speaks volumes about the current state of conservative evangelicalism. I don’t know what church Ellis attends, but there is nothing in the Bible about American liberty or American patriotism.

Free speech! Free speech! The court evangelicals process the events of the last week.

It’s been a very ugly week in America. By this time next week, Donald Trump may be the only United States president to have been impeached twice. We are getting more and more disturbing images and videos from Wednesday’s invasion of the U.S. Capitol. Here is one of the latest:

On Parler and Facebook, Eric Metaxas shared an article suggesting that the insurrectionists were not Trump supporters, but members of Antifa.

Metaxas is a fellow at Liberty University’s Falkirk Center. The center’s Twitter feed is rallying the troops:

What, does the Falkirk Center mean by the “power of the Gospel?” Is the tweet below a reference to the transforming power of the good news of Jesus Christ or the power of Trumpism? Is the Falkirk Center asking followers to plant seeds of faith or seeds of Christian nationalism?

Such “absolute standards” led evangelicals to Donald Trump:

Thousands of Trump supporters invaded the U.S. Capitol and court evangelical journalist David Brody and David Barton crony Rick Green are playing the moral equivalency card. “But what about the Democrats!?” Sorry David Brody, the Democrats did not storm the seat of American government.

Brody, the star newsman at the Christrian Broadcasting Network, believes that Trump has “united the country.” You can’t make this stuff up:

David Barton, the GOP activist who uses the past to promote his political agenda, retweeted Kentucky representative Thomas Massie. Barton and Massie believe that Twitter’s decision to ban Trump was the most “dystopian” thing that happened this week.

Jack Hibbs believes Twitter’s decision to ban Donald Trump is a violation of the First Amendment. Last night he wrote: “If it seems like the first amendment and the Constitution has been abolished it’s probably because it has. The Church is next.” Not really. Twitter is private company. They can ban anyone they want to ban. Also, Twitter has no power to “abolish” the Church.

Hibbs was in Washington D.C. on the day of the insurrection. Why would an evangelical pastor from California be in Washington D.C. on January 6? How is showing-up at a pro-Trump rally part of Hibbs’s pastoral vocation? He believes that the insurrectionists were members of Antifa. He claims that the rioters at the Capitol on Wednesday were “of the same spirit” as the British who invaded Washington in the War of 1812. Both groups, Hibbs says, want to “destroy our Judeo-Christian nation.”

Finally, Hibbs says that “freedom is always purchased with blood…liberty and freedom is a bloody work…Jesus went to the cross and bled for our freedom from sin.” He then compares Jesus’s death to the “blood and sacrifice” of people who died to create the United States and broke rank with” a tyrannical government. Earlier in his little speech, Hibbs extolled the evangelical pastors who promoted liberty from their pulpits during the American Revolution. These pastors mixed American liberty and Christian liberty and, in the process, manipulated the teachings of the Bible to advance their political agenda. I wrote about this extensively in Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction. Hibbs is doing the exact same thing here. Finally, Hibbs reminds his followers that he embraces a dispensationalist, pre-millennial, pre-tribulational eschatology.

Jim Garlow, another court evangelical who appeared on this television show with Hibbs, said that Hibbs has “brilliant insights.” Garlow compared the insurrectionists with the civil rights movement. Watch here.

Robert Jeffress says that when the insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol they were committing a “sin against God.” He calls for peace and unity, but says nothing about the fact that he provided cover for Trump during his entire presidency. Jeffress never uttered a negative word about the man. He is one of the many evangelicals responsible for what happened at the Capitol this week.

Many court evangelicals want to move beyond Trump’s assault on American democracy. They prefer to attack a private tech company:

Tony Perkins, who has built his entire career scaring evangelicals into believing that liberals are taking away their “rights,” tweets a quote from Peter Marshall:

John Hagee believes that the insurrection on Wednesday marks the “advent of the New World Order”:

The U.S. Senators who objected to the Electoral College results were almost all evangelicals

For the record, the following United States Senators objected to the Electoral College vote in Arizona last night:

Ted Cruz (R-TX)

Josh Hawley (R-MO)

Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS)

Roger Marshall (R-KS)

John Kennedy (R-LA)

Tommy Tuberville (R-AL)

They are all Republicans. They are all Trump supporters. But they are also, in one form or another, evangelical Christians. Cruz is a Southern Baptist and a Christian nationalist. Hawley is a member of an Evangelical Presbyterian Church. Cindy Hyde-Smith is a Southern Baptist. Roger Marshall is a “non-denominational Christian” who has the support of the Christian Right Family Research Council, the organization run by court evangelical Tony Perkins. Tommy Tuberville attends a Church of Christ congregation. The former Auburn football coach believes that “God sent us Donald Trump.” John Kennedy is a founding member of North Cross United Methodist Church in Madisonville, Louisiana and is a big Billy Graham fan.

The following Senators objected to the Electoral College vote in Pennsylvania last night:

Josh Hawley (R-MO)

Ted Cruz (R-TX)

Cynthia Lummis (R-WY)

Roger Marshall (R-KS)

Rick Scott (R-FL)

Tommy Tuberville (R-AL)

Cindy Hyde Smith (R-MS)

John Kennedy objected to Arizona, but he did not object to Pennsylvania. Rick Scott and Cynthia Lummis did not object to Arizona, but did object to Pennsylvania.

Lummis is a Lutheran and has not made Christian faith a central part of her political identity. Scott is a founding member of Naples Community Church, an independent evangelical church that “affirms the necessity of the new birth.”

Of course there were many evangelical Senators, including Ben Sasse (R-NE), Tim Scott (R-SC), John Thune (R-SD), and Marco Rubio (R-FL) who did not object to the Electoral College votes. Other evangelical Senators, including Jim Lankford (R-OK), Bill Hagerty (R-TN), and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), originally said that they would oppose the Pennsylvania results, but changed their minds after the insurrectionists broke into the U.S. Capitol.

The court evangelicals continue to mix biblical faith and Trumpism

So what has happened in the United States since our last court evangelical update?

Donald Trump continues to claim he won the 2020 presidential election, refuses to sign Congress’s COVID-19 relief package, and pardoned two murderers and two members of Congress who pleaded guilty to crimes. As I type Trump also pardoned Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner’s father. The latter committed a crime that Chris Christie, the prosecutor of his case, called “one of the most loathsome, disgusting crimes” he has ever prosecuted. Meanwhile, thousands and thousands of people are dying from COVID-19, health-care workers are at the breaking point, and Americans are standing in food lines.

Just another day in Trumpland.

The number of the president’s advisers and friends is getting smaller and smaller by the day. We are now in a race to January 20, 2020 and are all hoping the lame duck president does nothing stupid. As I type, David Gergen is on CNN saying that this is the “most dangerous point of the Trump presidency.”

Meanwhile, the folks at the Liberty University Falkirk Center are still fighting for the president. They are still talking about “standing on truth.” This is getting embarrassing. What “line” are they holding? What “stand” are they taking? They support a president who pardons murderers and crooks, cannot tell the truth, vetoes aid to suffering Americans, and is trying to undermine the presidential election. Is this standing up for the Gospel? Really?

Humility and repentance? Seriously? Have you read your Twitter feeds lately?

Charlie Kirk is the founder of the Liberty University Falkirk Center. He is upset about the COVID-19 relief bill and wants the government to give more money to the American people. I think Kirk and the Democratic Party may have found some common ground. I am sure Nancy Pelosi would love Kirk’s help in getting more cash to ordinary Americans.

Kirk is saying nothing about Trump’s veto of the bipartisan defense bill. Trump vetoed the bill because it would provide the funds necessary to rename ten military bases currently named for Confederate leaders.

Jenna Ellis, a fellow at the Liberty University Falkirk Center, is also in favor of more government spending on the stimulus. Maybe she should be working for Pelosi instead of Trump.

Eric Metaxas is in legal trouble. But he is still pushing the election fraud narrative. He claims that there are “forces at work that are as wicked as we have ever seen” and Americans don’t truly understand “evil.” Then he compares anyone who “looks the other way” on this so-called “election fraud” to the “evil” of the Chinese communists. “If you can’t take this seriously,” Metaxas says, “I can’t take you seriously.” He says that unless Biden is stopped “we cannot move forward as a country” because God is on Trump’s side. He knows a Trump victory is “God’s will.” Watch:

Lance Wallnau also believes God is on Trump’s side:

Court evangelical David Brody interviews Metaxas. Metaxas thinks Trump will win because “more and more Americans” believe the election is rigged. This is interview clarifies the nature of Metaxas’s mission right now. He wants to instill enough doubt and fear in the minds and hearts of ordinary evangelicals so that they do something to stop Biden’s inauguration. What will happen when the Senate certifies the vote of the Electoral College on January 6 and when Biden is inaugurated on January 20. Does that mean he was wrong about God’s will? Will he call for an insurrection–a holy war of sorts?

Brody also interviewed Newt Gingrich. The former Speaker of the House believes the Democrats stole the election, but the legal team needs to do a better job:

In this tweet Brody makes it sound like he is either waiting for the rapture or a strong weather system:

Christmas is tomorrow, but David Barton is still fighting over the Thanksgiving. In this piece, he tries to argue that there are two Americas. One has its roots in Jamestown and slavery and the other has its roots in the Pilgrims and liberty. And, of course, he calls us to follow the example of the Pilgrims. (Of course he fails to note that much of the theology the Pilgrims brought to America influenced pro-slavery ideas in the 19th century). This reminds me of when Barton was on the Eric Metaxas show and said that both Jamestown and Plymouth were “Christian” colonies, but only Plymouth was “biblical.”

Former Minnesota congressperson Michelle Bachmann will lead the Pat Robertson School of Government at Regent University. She is hoping to expand the university’s “biblical worldview.” Tony Perkins is very excited about it:

Jack Hibbs supports the president’s decision to veto the stimulus package:

The last time we saw Jim Garlow he was hosting Alt-right leader Steve Bannon on his “election integrity” prayer call. Today he is on FB pushing this conspiracy theory and telling some of his court evangelical and political friends to “get this to the right people”:

Went to vote today 12/21/2020 early voting and while standing in line; a white car parks across the street in front of Island’s Library on Whitemarsh Island, GA in front of voting entrance. The car is not in a parking space and the driver had on the emergency blinking lights. They rushed to the voting area door and went inside. I took a picture of their car when I noticed it had a Florida tag. A few minutes they returned with a green plastic container. They opened their trunk and then went to the back seat of the car and removed bags that looked like empty suitcases and put them in the trunk. One lady grabbed a small bag that had writing on it saying “Secure the Vote”. They packed the green plastic container, put it in the car and drove off. They could be legitimate but I was left wondering after I enlarged the picture of the container and it said, “Absentee ballots to be processed”. Tell me if you are suspicious?

Robert Jeffress is on Fox News giving leadership advice, praising Trump for his leadership, and attacking Biden. He calls Trump “President Trump” and he calls Biden “Joe.”

Franklin Graham praises Newt:

Finally, I am struck today by how the Twitter feeds of the court evangelicals are filled with tweets about Christmas miracles interspersed, almost seamlessly, with election fraud tweets. This is sad. Because these Christian men and women are enabling the worst president of the United States. This president’s immorality and shamelessness make Andrew Johnson, James Buchanan, and Richard Nixon look like saints.

Georgia Representative Barry Loudermilk wants David Barton to direct Trump’s 1776 Commission

Some of you may recall Donald Trump’s November 2, 2020 executive order establishing the “1776 Commission.” We wrote about it here and here.

Here is a taste of the order:

The 1776 Commission shall:

(i)    produce a report for the President, within 1 year of the date of this order, which shall be publicly disseminated, regarding the core principles of the American founding and how these principles may be understood to further enjoyment of “the blessings of liberty” and to promote our striving “to form a more perfect Union.”  The Commission may solicit statements and contributions from intellectual and cultural figures in addition to the views of the Commission members;

(ii)   advise and offer recommendations to the President and the United States Semiquincentennial Commission regarding the Federal Government’s plans to celebrate the 250th anniversary of American Independence and coordinate with relevant external stakeholders on their plans;

(iii)  facilitate the development and implementation of a “Presidential 1776 Award” to recognize student knowledge of the American founding, including knowledge about the Founders, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitutional Convention, and the great soldiers and battles of the American Revolutionary War;

(iv)   advise executive departments and agencies (agencies) with regard to their efforts to ensure patriotic education — meaning the presentation of the history of the American founding and foundational principles, the examination of how the United States has grown closer to those principles throughout its history, and the explanation of why commitment to America’s aspirations is beneficial and justified — is provided to the public at national parks, battlefields, monuments, museums, installations, landmarks, cemeteries, and other places important to the American Revolution and the American founding, as appropriate and consistent with applicable law;

(v)    advise agencies on prioritizing the American founding in Federal grants and initiatives, including those described in section 4 of this order, and as appropriate and consistent with applicable law; and

(vi)   facilitate, advise upon, and promote other activities to support public knowledge and patriotic education on the American Revolution and the American founding, as appropriate and consistent with applicable law.

Since this commission was established by a Donald Trump executive order, I think it is a good bet that it will also be disbanded by a Joe Biden executive order. Nevertheless, Georgia Representative Barry Loudermilk thinks David Barton, the Christian Right activist who uses the past to promote his agenda, should lead this commission.

Here is Kyle Mantyla’s reporting at Right Wing Watch:

In November, President Donald Trump issued an executive order creating a “1776 Commission” for the purpose of “promoting patriotic education.” Alleging that liberals have hijacked the teaching of history by presenting “one-sided and divisive accounts [that] too often ignore or fail to properly honor and recollect the great legacy of the American national experience,” Trump’s commission aims to “provide America’s young people access to what is genuinely inspiring and unifying in our history, as well as to the lessons imparted by the American experience of overcoming great national challenges.”

This is exactly the sort of nonsense argument long made by prominent right-wing pseudo-historian David Barton of WallBuilders, whose entire enterprise is built on the false notion that the United States of America was founded as a Christian nation. As such, it was no surprise to learn that Republican Rep. Barry Loudermilk of Georgia is circulating a letter to his fellow members of Congress urging Trump to name Barton as the chairman of the 1776 Commission.

Loudermilk, a longtime acolyte of Barton and his warped presentation of American history, announced the effort while introducing Barton at Roopville Road Baptist Church in Georgia Sunday.

Read the entire piece here.

Watch:

If you’ve never heard of David Barton you can learn more by reading these posts.

“Patriot Churches” call masks “face diapers”

For more than a decade, I have been chronicling how many white evangelicals have a hard time distinguishing between Christianity and nationalism. I wrote a book about this in 2011 and it was a major theme of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

Over at The Washington Post, Sarah Pulliam Bailey reports on “patriotic churches.” I understand that these churches exist, but in my view
“patriotic church” is an oxymoron.

Here is a taste:

This is a Patriot Church, part of an evolving network of nondenominational start-up congregations that say they want to take the country back for God. While most White conservative Christian churches might only touch on politics around election time and otherwise choose to keep the focus during worship on God, politics and religion are inseparable here. The Tennessee congregation is one of three Patriot Churches that formed in September. The other two are near Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., and in Spokane, Wash., and Peters says he is talking with several more pastors of existing churches who want to join them.

The 50 or so people in attendance may identify as born-again or just as generic “Bible-loving” Christians. Peters’s flock is not affiliated with a specific denomination, but it does have a distinct identity. The Patriot Churches belong to what religion experts describe as a loosely organized Christian nationalist movement that has flourished under President Trump. In just four years, he has helped reshape the landscape of American Christianity by elevating Christians once considered fringe, including Messianic Jews, preachers of the prosperity gospel and self-styled prophets. At times, this made for some strange bedfellows, but the common thread among them is a sense of being under siege and a belief that America has been and should remain a Christian nation.

From his lectern during the worship service, Peters rails against perceived attacks on First Amendment freedoms, decrying government mandates and calling masks “face diapers.”

Read the rest here.

Theologian Miroslav Volf on Christian Trumpism

Here is the Yale theologian yesterday on Twitter:

GOP Convention: Night 3

pence and trump at ft mchenry

Yesterday was my first day of face-to-face teaching since March. I am not yet in “classroom shape,” so I was exhausted by the end of the day. Mentally, I was still reeling from multiple technology failures (mostly due to my ignorance) and the panic (and sweat) that ensues when half of the class is watching you desperately trying to get the other half of the class connected via ZOOM.

This morning my youngest daughter headed-off to Michigan for her sophomore year of college, so we spent most of last night packing the car and spending a few hours together before the empty nest syndrome returns later today.

Needless to say, I did not get much time to watch the third night of the 2020 GOP Convention, but I did manage to see a few speeches and catch-up with the rest via news and videos.

Let’s start with American history:

  • In her speech, Lara Trump, the president’s daughter-in-law (Eric Trump’s spouse), tried to quote Abraham Lincoln: “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedom,” she said, “it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” These are strong words. Lincoln never said them.
  • In his speech, Madison Cawthorn, a GOP congressional candidate from North Carolina’s 11th district, said that James Madison signed the Declaration of Independence. Here is the exact line: “James Madison was 25 years-old when he signed the Declaration of Independence.” Madison was indeed 25 in July of 1776, but he did not sign the Declaration of Independence. (He did serve in the Second Continental Congress from 1777 to 1779).
  • Clarence Henderson, who was part of the 1960 lunch counter sit-ins at the Greensboro, North Carolina Woolworths, deserves the appreciation of every American. (Just to be clear, Henderson was not one of the famed “Greensboro Four“). He is free to vote for anyone he wants in November. But it is sad to see this civil rights activist buy into the idea that African-Americans should vote for Trump (or the GOP in general) because Lincoln freed the slaves and the Democrats (in the South) were the party of segregation. While this is true, it fails to acknowledge an important principle of historical thinking: change over time.
  • Finally,  Burgess Owens, a GOP congressional candidate from Utah (and former NFL player), talked about his father and World War II. He said, “mobs torch our cities, while popular members of Congress promote the same socialism that my father fought against in World War II.” Owens is confused. The socialists (communists) were actually on the side of the United States during World War II. The Nazi’s were opponents of Soviet-style socialism. This can get a little tricky because “Nazi” is short for “National Socialist.” Sort it all out here.

OK, let’s move on.

Trump press secretary Kayleigh McEnany repeated the popular mantra about liberals “removing God” from public schools and “erasing God from history.” A few quick thoughts on this:

  • From the perspective of Christian theology, I don’t think it is possible to remove God from public schools or anywhere else.
  • Ironically, McEnany’s statement about erasing God comes at a moment when American religious history is one of the hottest fields in the historical profession. We know more about Christianity’s role in America’s past today than at any other point in the history of the nation.

I want to spend the rest of this post on Mike Pence’s speech last night. Watch it:

I did not recognize much of the America that Pence described in this speech. He began with an attack on Joe Biden: “Democrats spent four days attacking America. Joe Biden said we were living through a ‘season of darkness.'”

In January 2017, Donald Trump used the word “carnage” to describe the United States. Is America any better four years later? 180, 000 are dead from COVID-19. Colleges and schools are closed. There is racial unrest in the streets. We are a laughing stock in the global community. Millions are out work. Less than half of Americans have any confidence in the president. And Pence has the audacity to say “we made America great again.”

Pence continues to peddle the narrative that the coronavirus derailed the accomplishments of Trump’s first term. This is partly true. But when historians write about this presidency, the administration’s handling of COVID-19 will be at the center of the story.  COVID-19 is not just an unfortunate parenthesis in an otherwise successful presidency. COVID-19, and Trump’s failure to act swiftly, will be this president’s defining legacy.

Like Kayleigh McEnany earlier in the night, Pence also made reference to the current conversation about monuments and their relationship to our understanding of the American past. “If you want a president who falls silent when our heritage is demeaned or insulted,” Pence said, “then he’s [Trump’s] not your man.”

It is important to remember that “heritage” is not history. Those who sing the praises of “heritage” today are really talking more about the present the past. The purpose of heritage, writes the late historian David Lowenthal, is to “domesticate the past” so that it can be enlisted “for present causes.” History explores and explains the past in all its fullness, while heritage calls attention to the past to make a political point. Since the purpose of heritage is to cultivate a sense of collective national identity, it is rarely concerned with nuance, paradox, or complexity. As Lowenthal writes, devotion to heritage is a “spiritual calling”–it answers needs for ritual devotion.

When Trump and Pence talk about defending an American “heritage,” they are selectively invoking the past to serve their purposes. Such an approach, in this case, ignores the dark moments of our shared American experience. This administration is not interested in history.  They reject theologian Jurgen Moltmann’s call to “waken the dead and piece together what has been broken.”

Pence’s speech was filled with misleading statements, half-truths, and blatant lies. He claimed that Joe Biden wants to defund the police. He said that Biden “opposed the operation” that killed Osama bin Laden.” He said that Donald Trump has “achieved energy independence for the United States.” He said Joe Biden wants to “end school choice.” He said Joe Biden wants to scrap tariffs on Chinese goods. He said that “no one who required a ventilator was ever denied a ventilator in the United States.” He said that Trump suspended “all travel from China” before the coronavirus spread. He said that Biden did not condemn the violence in American cities. He said that Biden supports open borders. All of these statements are either false or misleading.

Trump is a liar. So is Pence. But Pence is an evangelical Christian. How can anyone reconcile the peddling of such deception with Christian faith? It doesn’t matter if the Bible-believing vice president lies about his political opponent, as long as his lies are effective in scaring Americans to vote for Trump. Pence claimed that “you won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America.” Of course this kind of fear-mongering has a long history in American politics. But when people claim the mantle of Christian faith and engage in such political rhetoric, we must always call it out.

Finally, Pence has proven to be a master at fusing the Bible with American ideals. Again, this is not new. The patriotic ministers of the American Revolution did this all the time. It was heretical then. It is heretical now. Such a rhetorical strategy manipulates the Bible for political gain.

For example, Pence said, “Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom, and that means freedom always wins.” Pence is referencing 2 Corinthians 3:17: “now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” This passage has NOTHING to do with the political or “American” freedom Pence was touting in his speech. St. Paul spoke these words to encourage the Corinthian church to live Spirit-filled lives that would free them from the bondage sin, death, and guilt. Pence has taken a deeply spiritual message and bastardized it to serve partisan politics and this corrupt president.

In the same paragraph, Pence says, “So let’s run the race marked out for us. Let’s fix our eyes on Old Glory and all she represents, fix our eyes on this land of heroes and let their courage inspire. Let’s fix our eyes on the author and perfecter of our faith and freedom.”
Here Pence is referencing Hebrews 12: 1-2. That passage says: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”

Again, see what Pence is doing here. Instead of fixing our eyes on Jesus, we should fix our eyes on “Old Glory,” a symbol of American nationalism. The “heroes” he speaks of are not the men and women of faith discussed in the previous chapter of Hebrews (Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Issac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jepthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets), they are the “heroes” (as he interprets them) of American history. Jesus is the “author and perfecter” of our faith and [American] freedom.”

The use of the Bible in this way is a form of idolatry. My friend and history teacher Matt Lakemacher gets it right:

On to day 4!

“Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?” at the Reintegrate Podcast

My old divinity school friend Bob Robinson runs Reintegrate, a ministry that helps Christians integrate faith, life, and vocation. I recently joined Bob and his co-host Brendan Romigh on the Reintegrate podcast to talk about Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction.

Listen here or watch below.

It’s a two part-episode. Next week we will talk about Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

What are the court evangelicals saying about the DNC convention?

We have now had two nights of the DNC convention. Let’s check-in on the court evangelicals:

I think this must have been taped before the convention, but watch Eric Metaxas and John Smirak mock Kamala Harris’s first name. And then they compare Harris to Jim Jones and Jonestown. Finally, they take more shots at Biden’s faith and the Catholic church.

Metaxas continues to cash-in on the Trump presidency. Today on Facebook he is promoting his new book in the “Donald the Caveman” series. It is titled Donald and the Fake News.

Fake news metaxas

But I digress. This post is supposed to be about the convention.

Robert Jeffress is countering the DNC convention with something called “Faith Week.”

“Faith Week” includes:

Pastor Jack Hibbs:

Let’s end tonight’s roundup with the Liberty University gang at the Falkirk Center:

Charlie Kirk does not seem to have recovered from Monday night’s meltdown:

And here is Liberty University Falkirk Center fellow Jenna Ellis:

This Liberty University Falkirk Center fellow is getting excited about the Republican National Convention:

And these:

Christian politics at its best (worst).

David and Tim Barton: The Boston Tea Party was not a “riot.” Don’t you know they called it a “party?”

6de1d-bostonteaparty

Thousands of white evangelicals get their history from David Barton (founder) and Tim Barton (president) of an organization called Wallbuilders.

In light of the recent peaceful protests and riots in the wake of George Floyd’s death, the Bartons want to make sure that white evangelicals think that the birth of the United States was not violent. We addressed this false claim here.

If the Boston Tea Party was a happy little “tea party,” and not an act of vandalism, the Bartons can make the case that the Floyd protests and riots were somehow outside the mainstream of American history, especially the American founding. This attempt to manipulate the American past to fit a pro-Trump, pro-Christian Right agenda is evident in a recent article, published at the Wallbuilders website, titled “Was the Tea Party a Riot?

Here is the opening argument:

Peaceful protestors [sic] have marched around the country to demand justice. However, in the midst of justified outrage some people have themselves begun committing unjustifiable acts, assaulting and murdering police officers, burning down buildings, mercilessly beating people, and destroying their fellow citizens’ property. Out of town activists and professional agitators have poured into metropolitan centers and led rioters to destroy businesses, housing units, and even churches.

In defense of these heinous acts, some people have begun pointing to the Boston Tea Party as an example of how violent riots are part of American tradition. This historical perspective, however, is only possible if you don’t know the first thing about the Boston Tea Party, who was involved, and why it happened.

The piece is riddled with historical problems. For example, the Bartons do not seem to know that the Tea Act did not raise the price of tea in the colonies, nor was it a tax. They make several appeals to 19th century American history textbooks and pull random quotes from these textbooks that fail to advance their arguments. It almost seems like they are pulling these quotes just so they can add another footnote to the article in order to give the impression that the piece is well-researched. They fail to engage any of the best scholarship on the tea party and their primary sources are taken out of context.

Finally, their historical analogy doesn’t make sense. Those who carried out the Boston Tea Party were vandals. They destroyed someone else’s property. Isn’t this what some of the rioters did in the wake of the Floyd murders? It was wrong in 1776 and it’s wrong in 2020.

The Barton’s conclude:

The situation in American today is entirely different. Respect and decency are not being shown to innocent people or business owners. The current riots are like a destructive tornado set on destroying everything in its path.

Peaceful protests are protected by the Bill of Rights, but violent riots which destroy, loot, and victimize are antithetical to the American idea. The comparison of the violent riots to the Boston Tea Party is wildly unfounded and demonstrates that Americans should study their history before they try to weaponize it.

Perhaps the Bartons should read Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Stacy Schiff‘s recent New York Times piece “The Boston Tea Party Was More Than That. It Was a Riot.”  Here is a taste:

Several years later, after long December days of town meetings, after endless speeches and equally protracted negotiations, over a thousand colonists headed, early on a damp evening, to Griffin’s Wharf. Three hundred and forty-two troublesome chests of East India tea sat aboard the ships on which they had sailed from England. Hatches were opened, holds entered, chests hoisted on deck. In a few hours, every leaf of tea steeped in Boston Harbor. By 9 p.m. the town was still. Boston had not known a quieter night for some time.

No one was hurt. No gun was fired. No property other than the tea was damaged. The perpetrators cleaned up after themselves. In the aftermath, the surgical strike was referred to plainly as “the destruction of the tea.” To the indignant Massachusetts governor, it constituted nothing less than a “high handed riot.”

He had a point: There is a difference between burning a draft card or toppling a statue and tossing someone else’s goods overboard. This was an assault on property rather than on a symbol. Expertly choreographed, it qualified as a blatant act of vandalism. It was difficult to dress up, though John Adams would privately declare the dumping of the tea the grandest event since the dispute with Britain had begun. He thought it sublime.

To the occupiers it proved to be a particular mortification. The king demanded an immediate prosecution. It did not seem too much to ask: After all, thousands had watched the tea rain into the water, even if only several dozen men had actually boarded the ships. No one, however, seemed to have seen a thing. In all of Boston only one witness could be found — and he refused to testify unless transported out of the colony.

The patriots swabbed the decks afterward and history reciprocated, turning a riot into a tea party. The tidying is necessary to the exercise. The acts of defiance are meant to shine as sterling symbols of patriotism. Over time they take refuge under their principles: We prefer to remember not that we were making a mess but that we were making a point. In a protest movement, we like to be able to distinguish the villains. Or as Samuel Adams put it after what he was never to know as the Boston Tea Party: “Our enemies must acknowledge that these people have acted upon pure and upright principle.”

Read the rest of the piece here.